Project Genesis




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The Jewish Legal System

Laws of Damages

An Eye for an Eye - Part I

Did the Jews ever literally enforce the rule “an eye for an eye”?

The Oral Torah contains many details that were not included in the Written Torah. For example, the Fourth Commandment (Ex. 20:10) forbids work on the Sabbath; the Oral Torah (Mishnah Shabbos 7:2) lists 39 categories of forbidden work. The phrase “an eye for an eye” in the Written Torah (e.g., Ex. 21:24) is interpreted in the Oral Torah as referring to the payment of damages—“the value of an eye for an eye”. The details of what must be paid for when one person injures another are given in Mishnah Bava Kama 8:1; they include (if applicable) the value of the damage (how much less is a slave worth if he has lost an eye?); pain and suffering; medical expenses; lost time; and embarrassment. The Oral Torah’s amplification of the written verse is as old as the written verse itself; the phrase “an eye for an eye” was never interpreted literally by the Jews.

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